Looking at the UC Berkeley campus from afar, it appears to be a socially diverse atmosphere that celebrates ethnic diversity, yet upon closer inspection, the frequent exclusion of certain races becomes clear. To the world, we are a successful combination of culture and diversity, but behind closed doors, minority groups can fall victim to discrimination, harassment and rejection.
During my second week on campus at UC Berkeley, I had a friend who came crying to me as she tried to recount the multiple dehumanizing racial slurs students yelled at her on her way to the dorm. She identifies as an African American, blaming her dark skin tone for being alienated from social circles. This experience only served to dispel her confidence and drive her toward further isolation.
In last year’s UC Berkeley My Experience survey, the results prompted my dismay when 82% of students reported feeling secure, but the remaining 18% who expressed safety concerns were mainly minorities. In addition, minority groups, such as Black students, had a lower agreement rate compared to their white counterparts when it came to believing that the university was doing its utmost to promote inclusion within the campus, with a substandard 64%. The statistics reporting on the overall experience on campus underscore the prevalence of exclusion because marginalized communities are still being pushed aside.
Minority students throughout the years have written their stories of experiencing some form of exclusion. For example, Ariel Zarrin, in her narrative “A message to aspiring professionals of color,” speaks out about feeling outcast by her peers in social spaces as a Latine student and her aspirations to create an equitable environment for future colored students. Marina Román Cantú also speaks out in her article “Made in Mexico” about the microaggressions she has increasingly encountered while staying at UC Berkeley. She recounts moments when peers have based her personality on Mexican stereotypes and believed her abilities to be inferior. Dozens of stories like these are recounted in the Daily Cal, but what shocked me was how recent these were; Zarrin published her narrative February 25, 2021, while Cantú released her column April 15, 2022.
However, my wake-up call to the severity of the issue was through my friend Jane (anonymous), a Guatemalan who encountered animosity from other UC Berkeley students outside and in her dorm. She was roomed with two other females, both white students, who seemed displeased by her ethnic background and dark skin tone from the start. She woke up to her roommates cursing at her while they thought she lay asleep. The following day she pleaded to be relocated to another dorm. Despite her story, the administration offered no solution.
Seeing as she wouldn’t change her dorm, Jane confronted her roommates about their behavior, but they denied her accusations. From then on, weeks went by, and her roommates began taking her belongings and preventing her from getting sleep by playing loud music, leading her to seek counselors’ help. However, they were only able to provide her access to mental health resources, and, like that, she managed to hang on for the first semester on campus.
Being a first-generation student like me, she absolutely feared disappointing her parents, but two weeks ago, I received news that she dropped out of UC Berkeley without consulting her family — her fear of discrimination finally outweighing the horror of confronting her parents. Arriving home, her parents threatened to kick her out of the house. Still, she refused to return to school, and it was not until she recounted her experience that they accepted her back with open arms.
After hearing her story, I wondered how many other minority students have been cast away due to discrimination. How can campus claim to accept racially diverse students when minority students are still frequently forced to endure being outcast? The reality is that it’s 2022, and racial prejudice is still present even at a school like UC Berkeley that advertises its inclusivity. Nearly every article on the UC Berkeley website includes an image of students of diverse backgrounds interacting peacefully, yet many minority students seem to paint a different picture.
Although UC Berkeley already has some programs oriented toward assisting students of color, there needs to be more fliers, emails and announcements informing students about these resources and where to locate them. Even as someone who has actively searched for minority support groups, I’ve noticed that these groups often have a set of requirements or a limited number of students they are accepting.
As students, we can work to be more welcoming toward people of color by asking our peers to educate us about their culture. Fellow students can initiate conversation with minority students to make sure they feel included in social spaces. The university, upon student requests, could form presentations about race and inclusion, highlight articles on student exclusion on campus to spread awareness, and enforce discipline on students who are not aligning themselves with UC Berkeley’s goal of inclusivity to demonstrate that racism on campus will not be tolerated.